Wednesday, October 29, 2014

End of Season Controversy

Between June 9th and October,I held the coveted position of Gulf Hagas Ridgerunner. I came to love the place like my own back yard, and could often tell if something was wrong before I saw it. Smoke, human feces and overly sweet perfumes alerted me to situations that required Leave No Trace education on the double. I packed out orange peels, beer cans, abandoned gear, sunglasses, socks and scraps of candy wrappers. One of the best compliments I received often: its pristine. 

Billings Fall, above, is just one of  dozens of outstanding views seen from the Rim Trail on the Gulf Hagas Loop. Every Friday, I hiked this loop, picking up micro trash, talking to day hikers, inspecting the location for blowsdowns and other concerns, including illegal campfires and camp sites.

The loops is part of the Appalachain Trail Corridor and protected by federal law. No camping is allowed two miles north after crossing the West Pleasant river. The camp sites just south of the crossing are actually very flat and heavily used, although according to an AT contact, they sit too close to the water to be approved.

At the End of Season debriefing, I recommended a designated campsite be established in this treasured area, just 30 miles into the Hundred Mile Wilderness. Apparently, according to the e-mails I'm receiving from the powers that be, this is deemed both nearly impossible to achieve and a great insult to the 'resource.'

My answer is based on over four months residency in this location.
Keep in mind, this "wilderness" is logged regularly. Heavy logging trucks laden with trees rumble down the Katahdin Ironworks road. 
The Falls are considered Class 5 river. Kayaks shoot these falls when the river is up, often running the series twice if the water is high enough. 
Hunting is allowed. I've even had a guy cross the river carrying a shotgun. After looking up the regulations, I found that one may hunt 300 feet from the trail. It wasn't unusual to hear gunfire this fall as grouse came into season.
Fishermen wade the streams, camping in paid sites along the river. Or not. The locals know all the places a ridge runner is unlikely to appear and request fires be extinguished. 
Keep in mind, a much used parking lot sits .2 miles from the crossing, and tons of day hikers trample down that access trail, cross the river and proceed to hike the Loop. I'm so in favor of public exposure, I try to encourage all LNT principles with a smile and good story. If people love something, they will protect and support it.

The place is heavily used by many groups. The Hundred Mile Wilderness sees youth groups taking on the challenge, some ill equipped, often under-trained and over-loaded for the journey ahead.
Now, the problem.

According to some, the Gulf is so precious, Backpackers should not be allowed to camp near the crossing. But, they do, and they will, and no matter how close the ridge-runner's camp, or how late in the evening, or early in the morning, she can't catch everyone breaking the rules.

And, what if she does? Her power lies in persuasion. As a thru hiker, she knows that anyone arriving there to camp at dusk, either from the north or south, has likely traversed 4 mountains. If its raining, if they fell, if their knees are killing them, if its cold, if they are meeting a resupply at the Katahdin Ironworks road or if the river is way up, they may just chose to stealth camp regardless. In other words, very likely they are going to march way back out of site and pitch camp along the river, just before dark and set up anyways.
And, successfully breaking the rules, they'll text the next one coming up the trail of the great site they enjoyed.

That happens time and again.
That's reality. It flies in the face of theory and philosophy. You can rant all day long that  backpackers should plan better all you want, but that won't change a thing.
If we want to affect reality, we have to be there. 
A designated campsite, just as you find in the delicate eco- system of Horns Pond and Sugarloaf Mountain, both of which are now managed by a caretaker, could eliminate all the 'bootleg' campsites that will be scratched out at the Gulf Hagas Crossing, regardless
A managed site insures privies are used, sites don't expand, people are registered, illegal campfires aren't built.

I care about the Gulf so much, I'm making my appeal to the forces that be, publicly.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Brooks-Range Gear Review

I've owned this jacket for three years. Its my favorite jacket for both traveling and base camping, mainly because its so light and warm. Its amazing how quickly this one piece of gear could make a difference at base camp, deep in the 100 mile wilderness.

You can read my initial review on the Female Survivalist Blog by clicking on this link:

I like the fact is is so comfortable, I can sleep with it on and not feel bound or constricted. So far, its not been washed, and the down remains fluffy.

The only problem I've had is the pocket zippers. The coil zippers are extremely small and broke a year ago. The pockets are still serviceable, but care must be taken so slippery items, like silnylon ditty bags are not lost. My gloves stay put quite well.

If I bought another one, I would get the hooded jacket.

Friday, October 24, 2014

End Of Season Gear Reviews

Having finished my stint as a Ridgerunner in Maine's Hundred Mile Wilderness, I'd like to report on some of my favorite pieces of gear.

Two pairs of footwear immediately rise to the top of my favorite, much used gear.

I purchased these boots in Rangely, Maine. They cost $130 bucks. I've worn them alot and there's still good tread on them.
Although not as waterproof as I would have liked, these Keen boots felt terrific, regardless of the long miles or steep climbs.

These rubber boots I purchased late in September were wonderful for those nearly frozen water crossings. Sometimes, even though I knew the high water would go over the top, I still used them because the wool socks inside still kept my feet warm. Once on the other side, the deep tread allowed me to slog along the muddy trail, checking campsites.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hundred Mile Wilderness Aflame

The season is done and the color is brilliant. We've packed up the camp, packed up the Geo, and heading out.

Bitter sweet. Hard to say good bye to all my friends. So, instead of good bye, I'll say Hasta la Vista....until I see you again.

Trails tend to cross time and again for wilderness buffs. And so, here's hoping ours do again.

This winter, I'll be working on the book, Of Moose and Men, Ridge-running in the Hundred Mile Wilderness....
and all the notes will remind me what a marvelous opportunity its been.

If I've had the pleasure to meet you this summer, please drop me a line. I'd like to hear how your season went.

Happy Trails

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wrongful Resupply

One last ridgerun north, up and over Gulf Hagas mountain, to Sidney Tappen Campsite. It makes for a sweet 14 mile day. Only a bit of abandoned gear is there, making my day pack just a little heavier because its also soaked.

Parts of Maine look the same, spring or fall. Mossy trunks and roots cover the ground like a surreal fairyland.

Then you have the combination effect. Mossy roots surrounded by tons of fallen leaves. 
Once I even headed down a water drainage bar, the leaves were so thick it obscured the trail. Not to worry. No white blazes are on the water bar trail. I return, head south over padded ground.

The next morning, just after daylight, I notice two plastic bags on the south side of the river. I cross in my black rubber boots. A bit of river overcomes the top. The West Pleasant is nearly knee deep and cold as Hades.

I groan. Can't believe my eyes. Here, on the ground, is a resupply. The receipt is inside. Thirty five bucks of food. A name it taped to one bag. Now conflicted, do I remove this animal attractant? A resupply should always be hung, off the landing, in waterproof bag, as you would a bear bag.
But, if I remove this, if/when the hiker shows up, she will not have her food for the next 70 miles.

Its not right. We've been warned, if this were "trail magic" I'd probably remove it. This is completely against all Leave No Trace Principles. 
Inspired to make a video, Wrong way to resupply I talk about the issues behind random food drops.

And really, the Hundred Mile Wilderness should be treated as such, in my humble opinion. Its the grand finale, leading to the Holy Mountain. I'm wondering, if a poll were taken, how many have done it this year without a resupply.